Celtic Connections review: The Lost Words: Spell Songs, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s book celebrating “lost” nature words, this concert combined the talents of a diverse ensemble of musicians to dazzling effect, writes Fiona Shepherd

The Lost Words: Spell Songs at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall PIC: Gaelle Beri

The Lost Words: Spell Songs, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

After weeks of uncertainty, there was a sense of relief as much as appreciation from both stage and audience that this concert was actually happening. The Spell Songs project is, after all, an act of preservation from a talented, diverse ensemble of musicians responding in song and spirit to writer Robert Macfarlane’s book The Lost Words: A Spell Book, which celebrates 20 of the nature words dropped by the Oxford Junior Dictionary due to under-use by children.

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Its live incarnation is the very essence of the special gatherings which Celtic Connections enables – where else would we easily see Senegal’s Seckou Keita, Orkney’s Kris Drever and the West Country’s Beth Porter in one place? The limpid harmonising voices of Karine Polwart and Julie Fowlis would be a treat in any setting but, as an opening gambit on Bramble, demonstrated an holistic intent.

The Lost Words concert was as much benediction as celebration, with gentleness throughout from the welcoming warm, low lighting to the beautiful hangings depicting wetlands flora and fauna. Macfarlane’s collaborator, the illustrator Jackie Morris, was on hand to provide one of the most enchanting and therapeutic elements of the show, painting live as the musicians delivered their songs with an overhead camera periodically relaying her magical brushstrokes.

The first half featured a flurry of birds – Swifts, Kingfisher, Charm On Goldfinch and Little Astronaut, Jim Molyneux’s hymn to the skylark. Next on the sonic safari, otter and grey seal (Selkie-Boy), the playful Heron and the soft massed voices of Thrift (Dig In, Dig In) with Keita on the twin spurtles.

In the second set, Porter brought great character to her suitably prickly arrangement for Gorse and the winsome Daisy, with Polwart, Fowlis and Rachel Newton as the “St Andrews Sisters” cooing behind her, before Drever led the full ensemble with Clannad-like beatific power on Oak.

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